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Walgreens Restricting Abortion Pill Sales Due to Coordinated GOP Threat

The move is the latest example of the vast chilling effect of abortion bans, even in states where abortion is legal.

Walgreens signage is seen at a store on Court Street on January 5, 2023, in the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood of the Brooklyn borough in New York City.

Walgreens has said that it will not dispense abortion pills in states where the medications are legal after Republican state officials threatened to take legal action against the company if it began distributing the drugs.

In a letter riddled with disinformation about abortions, sent by Republican attorneys general in 20 states to Walgreens last month, the Republicans said they were writing to “advise you of the current law in this changing legal landscape,” claiming that certain “criminal” laws regarding abortion pills “deserv[e] serious contemplation” from the company — essentially saying that the company could face prosecution if it began distributing the drugs in their states.

“In my letter to Walgreens, we made clear that Kansas will not hesitate to enforce the laws against mailing and dispensing abortion pills, including bringing a [Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act] action to enforce the federal law prohibiting the mailing of abortion pills,” Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach said in a statement. Abortion is currently legal until 22 weeks past a patient’s last menstrual period in Kansas.

The company confirmed to Politico on Thursday that it would not be dispensing abortion pills in those states in stores or by mail, even in states where abortion and abortion pills are legal, including Alaska, Iowa, Kansas and Montana. In all four states, abortion is currently legal through most of pregnancy. While all four states have passed restrictions on abortion pills, the pills themselves remain legal and some of the restrictions have been temporarily blocked by courts.

In the company’s response to the officials, a top executive at Walgreens assured the Republicans that the company is aware of the “complexity” of abortion laws and that it is not currently dispensing the abortion drug mifepristone in any of its locations.

Walgreens’s decision could have a devastating impact on abortion access. Elizabeth Nash, state policy expert at the Guttmacher Institute, said that pharmacies like Walgreens can be a patient’s closest point of care in rural areas.

“They’re denying people agency over their lives,” Nash said to Politico. “When we’re thinking about states that have a lot of their population in rural areas, it’s much more likely that a pharmacy is nearby than a provider’s office, so these pharmacies play an outsized role in patient health and access to health care.”

The exchange between Republican attorneys general and Walgreens is the latest example of the extremity of the anti-abortion movement causing abortion access to be curtailed even in cases where the procedure is legal. As abortion advocates have pointed out, abortion restrictions are purposefully written to be vague and confusing, enabling the right to cast a wide net in terms of who anti-abortionists can threaten to prosecute in relation to abortion care.

“This is what actual fascism looks like in our corporate hellscape — one of the two largest pharmacy chains (they have about 9,000 locations) in the U.S. rushing to comply with draconian, authoritarian rules that don’t even apply,” said Data for Progress fellow and lawyer Matthew Cortland on Twitter.

Cortland pointed out that Walgreens’s decision will have an even wider impact than it would have had if government officials had reined in corporate consolidations in recent years. “The very concept of a ‘pharmacy behemoth’ like Walgreens and CVS (has a bit more than 9,000 locations) is absurd, and is how we end up with giant corporations constraining the lives of millions of Americans through corporate policy of refusing to provide lawful healthcare,” they said.

Beyond threatening the bodily autonomy of millions of Americans, abortion bans have had vast effects on health care not explicitly related to abortions.

Some people have reported being denied access to life-saving medications to treat unrelated illnesses because the drugs could cause pregnancy complications; others have reported being denied critical medications while experiencing a miscarriage, as the medication for miscarriages and abortions can be the same.

Meanwhile, far right lawmakers are campaigning to even further expand these laws, seeking to bar people from traveling across state lines to obtain an abortion and to curtail their ability to access information about obtaining abortions in the first place.

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